Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Binny's Private Select Barrel #4519 Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $40
- 120 Proof
- 10 Years
- Region: Kentucky

As I've said over and over again, the Knob Creek private selections, wherever they may be found, are one of the best deals out there. You're almost guaranteed to get a very good bottle of bourbon out of it, and sometimes you get something great. Either way, at $40.00 or less, at the very least you won't be stuck with buyer's remorse. Plus, no two barrels are alike, and I've really enjoyed just trying the different flavor profiles.

Binny's recently got a new batch of private selections in. Many people immediately went for the 13 1/2 year old, the oldest among their selections, but I was informed that Binny's main buyer, whoever he may be, liked this barrel the best. Perhaps I was fed a line, or perhaps it's true, but again, at $40, what's the risk? So I grabbed a bottle to find out.

The nose rich and heavy with the traditional vanilla and caramel notes. It has a mild alcohol burn, certainly less than would be expected from a high proofer. The nose is pungent, and it seems to forecast a heavy, rich and sweet flavored bourbon to follow.

On first sip, flavors aside, my primary thought was, "This is delicious!" Caramel is the foundation of this bourbon, providing a sweet, creamy flavor from beginning to end, with a nice cinnamon spice at the end. However, from front to back there were other flavors that seemed to come and go, not sticking around too long to offend the senses or to detract too much from that base-line caramel, but rather only long enough to make you appreciate those flavors while they're there, and love the caramel notes when they're not.

There was a anise flavor that I noticed in early pours. Again, though, it wasn't prevalent throughout, but just seemed to come and go, having me looking for it. It may seem weird, but this combination, with the heavy caramel and cinnamon finished reminded me of cinnamon roles.

On later pours, that anise flavor took on more of an amaretto flavor which, mixed with the caramel took on a very rich brown sugar syrup flavor. But, and possibly thanks to those amaretto and anise notes, this bourbon was never too sweet, and always had that tingly spice at the end. It also developed a light woody dryness to it towards the end that, again, kept it from being too sweet.

This bourbon was very rich, oily in texture and creamy in character. It had a lot going on, with different flavors coming in to play around with the caramel, but never upstaging it. Whether or not this was truly the barrel that Binny's buyer liked best, I don't know, but I can certainly see why it would be his favorite. This was a great pour, and I already miss it!

Grade: A-

Friday, August 11, 2017

Valentine Distilling Co. Mayor Pingree 9 Year Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $80
- 117.2 Proof
- 9 Years
- Region: Indiana (bottled in Michigan)

This is another one of those bottles that my wife randomly surprised me with following a recent success at work. As I've mentioned in the past, she enjoys bringing home bottles that I haven't had before. She knows it makes me happy!

It's worth noting right off the top that this whiskey, bottled by Valentine Distilling Co. in Detroit and named after its former mayor in the late 1800's, Mayor Hazen Pingree, is an MGP-sourced bourbon. It is a well-aged MGP bourbon, though, and as a general rule, it's going to be decent. Whether it's worth the $80 price tag is always a question with these NDPs, though.

On the nose I get a lot of soft caramel and brown sugar. It smells sweet, and I also get a lot of corn, which is a bit surprising from an MGP bourbon. It has minimal burn on the nose and promises to be a tasty pour.

On the palate I get a lot of caramel and just a light amount of cinnamon. Up front it does not come across as very complex. It's easy to drink but not exactly dynamic or interesting.

However, on the finish it develops some appreciable complexity. The sweet caramel (which is clearly the most prominent takeaway flavor from this bourbon) continues from beginning to end, serving as the foundation upon which all the other flavors are added. However, on the finish (much unlike the front end) I get a light nuttiness, but not the more bitter walnut kind. Rather, it's kind of a cashew nuttiness, a sweeter kind that lingers for a bit. I also got a lot of warm amaretto notes that seem to stick around at the back of my throat forever.

After the bottle being opened for a few weeks, the bourbon seemed to open up quite a bit. Despite being a caramel-bomb from the beginning, it somehow managed to get sweeter and added some light baking spices towards the back end.

This bourbon really turned into a delicious and sweet (but not too sweet) bourbon. Despite the first few pours being somewhat mundane, towards the middle and end of this bottle, I found myself wanting it more and more, and by the end I was disappointed that it was gone. At first the $80 price tag seemed like a complete bust, but at least toward the end it was palatable (the price, that is--the bourbon was very good!).

Grade: B+

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Jefferson's Chef's Collaboration Blended Straight Whiskey

VITALS
- $40
- 90 Proof
- 2 Years
- Batch No. 12
- Region: Kentucky

This is one of those whiskeys that I've wanted to try for quite some time, but I saw it so frequently on the shelves that I seemed to always have something else I wanted to try first, not worrying that this would become difficult to find. And then it did, at least for a while. There was a dry spell where I actively looked for the Jefferson's Chef's Collaboration and just couldn't find it. Eventually, though, it came back to the shelves and appears to have a regular place once again. This time I didn't take the chance and finally grabbed a bottle.

Chef's Collaboration is, as it's name would suggest, a collaboration between Jefferson's and world-famous chef Edward Lee of the 610 Magnolia and Milkwood restaurants in Louisville. It's not a bourbon, however, but rather a blended whiskey, consisting of a blend of bourbon and rye, much like High West's Bourye, Wild Turkey's Forgiven or Smooth Ambler's Contradiction. Some of these blended bourbons and ryes have seen success, and some haven't, but in general I'd heard good things about Chef Lee's design, and I couldn't wait to try it for myself.

The first thing that I noticed is its color. I rarely comment on color, as it really seems to have no bearing on anything, but this was noticeably lighter than the other whiskeys sitting next to it on my shelf. I can't say that it's attributable to one thing or another, just merely an observation.

The nose is sweet and spicy. I get a lot of vanilla and caramel with the cinnamon spice you'd expect from the rye. In that sense it had me expecting something traditional and bold, despite its lighter color.

On the first pour, it came across as very smooth and certainly on the sweeter side. I got distinct molasses flavors, and even a hint of peach. It also had a long, spicy cinnamon finish that really complimented that peach note. The texture is a bit on the watery side, yet the finish was nonetheless long and flavorful.

Interestingly, I also got a mintiness in the finish, which created a bit of a strange balance with the spicy cinnamon notes. Long after each sip I got a sort of cooling in the throat, which was particularly noticeable once the spice subsided.

Even towards the end of the bottle, after being open for a while, that minty sensation remained. In fact, the flavor profile of this whiskey didn't really change at all over time. It's the most consistent bottle in that respect that I've had in a long time. The only really noticeable change was that I got a slight wood note in the last few pours. Nothing tannic or dry about it, just a slight woody flavor to it.

Although this is not an overly complex whiskey, it is nonetheless an interesting and flavorful one. The transition in flavors from front to back is what really sticks out. It's very sweet up front, spicy at the back end, and then it leaves you with a cool minty sensation once the flavors have kind of evaporated. It's a solid pour, and is probably offered at the right price. It's not spectacular, but it is full of flavor and very easy to drink.

Grade: B

Monday, July 24, 2017

Four Roses Single Barrel Binny's Private Selection Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OESK

VITALS:
- $60
- 107.8 Proof
- 9 years, 8 months
- Region: Kentucky

Let me start out by saying that the Four Roses Single Barrel private selections will, after I've had a chance to get through all ten recipes, or perhaps even before then, be one of those bourbons that I will grab off the shelf every time I see it. Each private selection that I've tried has been nothing short of very good, and a few have been great.

This recipe, OESK, is my eighth of the ten different recipes, and it held true to the above premise. Although I might not describe this one as "great," it is nonetheless very good, and far from a disappointment or giving me buyer's remorse.

On the nose there was surprisingly no burn at all. Rather, it was full of the familiar scents of cinnamon and a whole bunch of vanilla. It even had a bit of a buttery note on the nose that made me never want to stop sniffing the stuff.

On the first few pours, there was a light cinnamon spice, and the wood tones were stronger than I'm used to getting in Four Roses bourbons. What set it apart even more, however, was the very distinct dark chocolate flavor. Between the wood and the dark chocolate flavors, there wasn't much sweetness up front.

Over time, however, that changed. It did sweeten up pretty significantly, yet it still maintained that cinnamon spice. Rather than wood tones, it took on more of an almond flavor and lost some of the edge it initially had. It really smoothed out and had a sort of red hots mixed with amaretto thing going.

The dark chocolate tones stuck around throughout, and I got an added peanut butter flavor in the latter half of the bottle that was subtle, but once I noticed it, I couldn't not notice it, if that makes sense.

Needless to day, this bottle had quite a bit going for it. While I wouldn't say the flavors blended perfectly together, they were pleasant, unique and nonetheless very tasty. It didn't change in profile as much as I thought it would, but it did improve over time, and the flavors that developed were . . . fun? Yeah, I'll go with fun.

Grade: B+

Monday, July 17, 2017

Angel's Envy 2016 Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $180
- 124.6 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

This is one of those bottles that I've been on the lookout for ever since I tried the regular Angel's Envy Bourbon, but I just never seemed to come across a bottle. The 2016 version, however, was more than available, albeit due in large part to the much higher price tag. Nonetheless, I parted ways with some hard-earned money for a chance to finally enjoy what I'd been after for years.

Of course, it required a special occasion before I popped the cork, so my neighbor, the one who recently moved away, and I enjoyed this bottle on the last day he was in town . . . and enjoy it we did. It was one of those mornings where I looked at the bottle, with only a few ounces remaining, and immediately realized why I felt the way I did.

What I enjoyed, at least those first couple pours and then the last few remnants months later, though, I REALLY enjoyed! This release is unique in that it's unfiltered. Accordingly, you can actually see the char from the barrels floating around in the bottle, even some relatively decent-sized chunks. I never noticed any of the char, however, as I drank it.

Rather, what I noticed is that this is an amped up and better version of Angel's Envy! It has a pungent nose, full of plum and cherry layered on top of sweet vanilla. There's also the slight scent of cloves on the nose. Of course, the expected port and alcohol burn are there, but they, by no means, detract from the complex and delicious nose that this bourbon otherwise offers.

On the palate I immediately notice the flavor of candied fruits, like dried and sweetened plum and cherry mixed with brown sugar. There's also a heavy dose of vanilla behind the dark fruits that really makes this a rich and delicious dessert-like pour!

It's very oily in texture and has surprisingly little burn. Don't get me wrong, the proof is high and this bourbon makes you notice, but rather than ethanol flavors taking over, it just has a nice, long, warm hug, even from the smallest sip. It's easy to drink and immediately coats the mouth with sweet, fruity flavors, but then leaves behind a cinnamon flavor in the back of the throat that seemingly never goes away.

The last pour from the bottle (which I decided to enjoy while I watched the season premier of Game of Thrones) was almost as if it were a slightly condensed version, or a reduction. It seemed to have thickened and was almost sticky and sweet. It almost reminded me of some of George R.R. Martin's descriptions of some of the wines in his books.  However, it never came across too sweet, perhaps due to the heavy amounts of vanilla and long, warming cinnamon spice that followed. 

I wish I didn't have to pay the price I did for this bottle. However, I was glad to have gotten to enjoy it, as I found this to be fantastic. As I would expect it to be, it was an amped up, better version of a product I already enjoy, and it met all expectations I might have had.

Grade: A

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Journeyman Distillery Kissing Cousins Whiskey

VITALS:
- $35
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 5
- Region: Michigan

Among the various whiskey and bourbon related Podcasts I've listened to over the years is one called, simply, the Bourbon Show. One of the hosts, Evan Haskill, is from Michigan, near Journeyman Distillery, and early on in the show's series he began touting just how amazing this product was. Of course, hearing him speak so highly of a product that I could never seem to find on the shelves only made me want it more. So when I stumbled across a bottle at Binny's, not even looking for bourbon, I made sure to snatch one up.

Kissing Cousins gets its name from the fact that it's a collaboration with Wyncroft Winery, placing Journeyman's Featherbone Bourbon into barrels that formerly held Cabernet Sauvignon. As one who is a fan of wine barrel-finished whiskeys, I was more than happy to give this a go, despite it only coming in a 375 ml bottle.

On the nose the wine notes are heavy up front, carrying significant plumb and dark cherry notes. Those are offset a touch by some citrus-y orange notes as well. It's very soft and fruity, seemingly layered over a distinct caramel note.

After enjoying that nose, the first taste came across much less sweet than I expected, which was not necessarily a bad thing. I got the traditional vanilla notes up front, but they seemed fleeting, as they were quickly overpowered by the strong flavor from the Cabernet Sauvignon, which lingered long after the vanilla notes dissipated. There is also a bit of amaretto flavor and the slightest hint of sour or over-ripe fruit, indicative of young bourbon being used.

The finish is primarily dark chocolate and cherry, lingering for a good amount of time after each swallow. There is almost no spice to speak of with this whiskey, which was a touch disappointing. The traditional bourbon notes just don't seem to ever show up either. Had the traditional vanilla or toffee notes been more prevalent, I might have found this whiskey much more enjoyable.

I guess ultimately it tastes like what it is, a young bourbon with a little too much wine influence for my tastes. I tried letting it sit for a bit, hoping it might open up some and some of the other flavors might come through, but that was not the case.  Nor did it seem to smooth out, almost developing even rougher edges over time than what it started with.

I was glad to finally try this one, but it just did not live up to Mr. Haskill's hype.

Grade: C+

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Trader Joe's Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

VITALS:
- $15
- 90 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Kentucky

Sometimes I pick up a bottle purely out of curiosity. My wife made a Trader Joe's run the other day, and when she asked me if I wanted anything, I half-jokingly said, "Get me some Trader Joe's bourbon!"  To her credit, she looked for it, and for only $15.00, she couldn't find any reason not to grab a bottle.

The label doesn't tell you much about what's inside the bottle. There's no age statement, and it only states that it was distilled by Bourbon Square Distilling Company in Louisville. Some quick Googling tells me, however, that it's distilled by Buffalo Trace at the Barton 1792 distillery. Accordingly, I went in expecting Ten High, or something of that caliber.

I will say, while this is not a bourbon I'd recommend to neighbors and friends, nor is it likely something I'll keep stocked in my home bar, it wasn't that bad.

The nose is sweet, heavy on the brown sugar. However, it's complemented by baking spices, rounding out a nice, dessert-like scent. It does carry some alcohol on the nose, telling me it's not going to be a "smooth" pour, but that was really to be expected.

The bourbon is watery in texture, but still provides a lot of that brown sugar that I found on the nose. It's a sweet bourbon with some rough edges and bitterness, but other flavors were able to come through as well. It came across as a bit nutty, like a walnut flavor, again, going decently with the brown sugar.

Interestingly, I also noticed light smokiness, which made this one stand out from other bourbons in this price range. That smokey, nutty and sweet combination could be decent if aged longer. In the end, though, it's a younger bourbon, certainly not aged much more than 4 years, and the watery texture and alcohol flavor puts this bourbon right where it belongs--among all the other bottom shelf bourbons that are best-suited to be mixed with Coke.

As stated above, I won't be stocking my bar with Trader Joe's Bourbon any time soon, but it was fun to try, especially at a price where there's pretty much no risk. In the end, it all comes down to . . . it wasn't that bad.

Grade: C+

Friday, June 30, 2017

Bruichladdich Port Charlotte Scottish Barley Heavily Peated Islay Single Malt Scotch

VITALS:
- $60
- 100 Proof
- NAS
- Region: Islay, Scotland

It's been a while since I've posted. It's not due to a lack of drinking whisky, however. I recently moved, so for a while there my whiskey and my laptop were packed away. During that time, however, I've enjoyed a few bottles, down to the last couple pours, with the intention of finishing them once I got into my new house, and getting the reviews up here. This is the first I finished off once we settled in, and this picture was actually taken in my new basement bar!

This was a sort of going away gift from my whiskey buddy who recently moved away. I'm not sure if it was intended as a gift or if it was just a matter of he couldn't pack it so he gave it to me. Either way, the outcome is the same and I got to enjoy a nice, peaty bottle of Islay Scotch!

The bottle itself advertises this as a "Heavily Peated" Scotch, and with a simple pop of the cork it's obvious that that is not mere puffery! One whiff of this stuff and my first thought was, "Holy smoke bomb!" It's like I stuck my nose into the smoldering remains of a campfire. It was really tough to get past the smoke to find other notes, but with a little patience and persistence, I was also able to pick up some graham cracker and light honey. The sweetness is there, it's just hidden.

The smoke, however, actually seemed stronger on the nose than it did on the palate.  Don't get me wrong, this is still a very smoky whisky, but the other flavors are able to permeate through as well, and it is a decent blend of smoky and sweet.

Beyond the peat there is a smooth butterscotch flavor that mixes well with cereal notes (perhaps that graham cracker I noticed on the nose) as well as hints of dark fruits. It reminded me of raisin bran, oddly enough. It's tasty and complex, though it does come off as a bit rough around the edges.

The peat smoke is still difficult to get past, and that smokiness lingers in your mouth forever, kind of like that taste you have the morning after enjoying a nice cigar the night before. It left an odd, almost metallic taste at the back of my throat as well that I had a hard time getting past. Also, frequently after a bottle has been open for a bit, the whisky inside tends to smooth out a bit. Not so with this one, as the rough edges seemed to only get more prominent, focusing more on the peat and the alcohol than the other, tasty but hidden flavors.

Even after a few pours, I couldn't be certain whether I liked this or not. I liked it at first, enjoying the butterscotch and graham cracker flavors mixed with the smoke, like a nice Summer campfire. Then a couple pours later I would wonder what I ever saw in this stuff. Yet, on my last pour, there I was, enjoying it all over again. Perhaps it was simply my mood, or perhaps just whatever I had just eaten was changing my palate, but I could never really put my thumb on whether or not I liked it.

Grade: B-

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 119.2 Proof
- NAS

I've been wanting to try Bulleit Barrel Strength since it came out, but just had never seen it in my area. So, when I made a recent trip to Louisville I made it a point to grab a bottle to bring back with me (and actually to share with my fledgling whiskey club which I'm not allowed to talk about). Of course, now that I brought a bottle back, I'm seeing it on the shelves all over the Chicagoland area. But, that fear of missing out (or "FOMO") made certain that I got a bottle sooner than later, at least.

The nose is spicy, much like the regular Bulleit Bourbon. It's not the traditional rye spice, but rather a sweetened spice, an interesting combination of caramel and black pepper. It also had a light woodiness to it, telling me this is older than standard Bulleit Bourbon, though a quick Google search of other reviews indicates it's a blend of 5-8 year bourbons.

On the palate it's a lot of cinnamon spice, telling me that it's a rye-heavy mashbill. That spice is balanced very well with the traditional bourbon notes of toffee and vanilla, however, along with some light chocolate notes. It made me think of a cinnamon Heath Bar, if only such a thing existed! Up front this bourbon really is delicious.

On the finish it left a bit to be desired, however. With so many barrel strength bourbons, they tend to have a more viscous texture, leaving an almost oily residue that causes the flavor to linger for a much longer time. Not the case wit this one. It's on the watery end in texture, and it had a very short, surprisingly short, finish to it. As soon as I swallowed that was it, no lingering flavors whatsoever.

At 119.2 proof, the alcohol is present. However, it does fade fast and, as indicated, the flavor comes through very well up front. In addition to the cinnamon and toffee notes that predominate, a light woodiness as well as a light smoke flavor thrown in somewhere in the middle. While it is bold in flavor, at least on the front end, I wouldn't call it complex.

It's a very tasty bourbon, and a good buy for the price. It hits all the right notes to make it one of my favorites, at least in flavor. It's a nice mix of cinnamon spice with the vanilla and toffee. The watery texture and notably short finish, however, were difficult for me to get past. I seemed to linger on that flaw, much like I wished this bourbon would linger on my tongue a bit more. I wanted to love this bourbon at first sip, but that immediate potential was never going to be realized.

Grade: B

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

New Riff Distilling O.K.I. Reserve 10 Year Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 97.75 Proof
- 10 Years
- Batch No. 20

I heard an interview with one of the owners of New Riff out of Newport, Kentucky, and, although I can't remember exactly who it was that was interviewed, I recalled appreciating the fact that they were very open about their distillery, their operations, and their business plan. In particular, she discussed their release of O.K.I., a bourbon they were sourcing and bottling as a means of keeping hte business afloat while their own distillate comes to maturation.

O.K.I. is a 10  year bourbon sourced from MGP in Indiana. New Riff never looked to hide that fact, even incorporating that fact as part of the brand (O.K.I. stands for Oklahoma, Kentucky and Indiana). Based upon that fact, and the fact that I've generally enjoyed the longer-aged products coming from MGP, I wanted to give this a try. Unfortunately, I can't get it in Illinois, so I had to wait a few months until my next trip to Louisville, but even though I was on a budget, this was the bottle I knew I was coming home with on that trip.

The nose is soft and full of vanilla and sweet pipe tobacco, that kind of sweet smell you get when you pass one of those specialty tobacco stores and the scent just wafts out the front door. It also had a kind of floral note to it, like lilac bushes, though it wasn't as strong as those flowers can be.

In flavor it struck me as very traditional, heavy on the vanilla and toffee. Towards the end it had a slight cinnamon spice as well as a light smoke on the finish. It was very bold and rich, full of flavor from beginning to end. The finish was long and the toffee flavor just seemed to linger forever, as though I let a Heath bar just sit and melt in my mouth.

Over time it seemed to sweet up and develop even more complexity. In addition to the sweet vanilla and toffee flavors, a more savory cocoa note came through, that played very well with the heavy vanilla. Perhaps it was those two flavors together or something completely new, but it also seemed to add in a peanut flavor. The cinnamon spice remained but was joined towards the end by a welcome orange-citrus note, just enough to make it interesting.

Although I wanted to savor this bottle, I found myself going back to it over and over again because I enjoyed it so much. I delayed a bit in opening it after I bought it, but once it was open, I couldn't help but make my way through this bottle relatively quickly. I was pleasantly surprised at just how much I enjoyed this bourbon, and I'm surprised it hasn't received more attention!

Grade: A

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Balvenie Doublewood 17 Year Single Malt Scotch

VITALS:
- $160
- 86 Proof
- 17 Years

This is one of those bottles that, though inviting it may be, is not one that I had ever really envisioned buying myself. Luckily for me, however, I was gifted one, so I got to give the Balvenie Doublewood 17 Year a go.

It's apparently called "Doublewood" due to its having spent time in two different casks.  It first spent "many years" in traditional whisky casks and is then matured in oak sherry casks. I'm not really sure the amount of time it spent in either type of barrel, though.

The nose is heavy on the sherry influence. It's very fruity in aroma, almost like a sangria, where you get the mix of red wine with fresh orange and apple. However, that aroma is complemented by sweet tobacco leave and vanilla, making for a very complex and very intriguing nose.

As would be expected, on the palate the whisky is smooth as silk--almost TOO easy to drink, as each glass seemed to go down very easily. The traditional maltiness is there, blended nicely with vanilla and walnut, but it quickly gives way to the prominent fruit notes. Though it didn't taste like the sangria I got from the nose, it was almost a mix of raisin and strawberry (perhaps that's hard to imagine, but that's what struck me as I drank this).

There's a mile spice that lingers, along with the vanilla and dark fruit flavors, for a bit on the finish, but unfortunately that's as long as it stayed--only for a bit.  The finish, while sweet and lightly spice and very enjoyable, was also very short. Perhaps this is due to the more watery texture of this whisky, something I didn't necessarily expect given its age.

Interestingly, about halfway through the bottle, the flavors seemed to blend a bit into more of a dark chocolate flavor, which went very well with that strawberry and raisin combo I mentioned. I really enjoyed this slight metamorphosis, and what's more, that chocolate note seemed to linger longer than the other flavors, seeming to last even after the other flavors had dissipated.

All in all, there was a lot going on in this whisky, and, as far as flavor goes, it was all incredible. It had fruity notes balanced well with chocolate and vanilla notes, balanced well with a slight spiciness. My only knock is the low proof and watery texture, but that's a mild complaint considering the wonderful blend of flavor in this bottle.

Grade: A-

Monday, May 29, 2017

Michter's 10 Year Single Barrel Straight Rye (2016)

VITALS:
- $110
- 10 Yrs.
- Barrel No. 16A131

The Michter's 10 Year Rye is one of those highly sought after "chase" whiskeys. I've long since resigned myself to being nothing more than an opportunistic bourbon hunter, grabbing those rarities when the chance presents itself, but not going out of my way to track them down. This was one, however, that I would have been happy to chase. I love Michter's in general, I love their ryes, and I'm a big fan of aged ryes. This one seemed to me like it'd be right up my alley, and I wanted one!

I did not pay secondary for mine, nor did I even pay the retail price of $110 or so. I actually won this on a whim, having entered into a raffle believing going in that I wasn't going to win it. But, for $11/spot, I figured the $22 I spent for the chance would suffice as my "chase." So when my number came up the winner, I couldn't have been more stoked, nabbing this bottle for a fraction of the retail cost, let alone the secondary which is close to double that amount!

Upon arrival, I popped it open and was hit with a caramel heavy nose, sweet but with a light amount of that rye spice on top. I also got come scent of cloves coming off it as well. It smelled very good, but along the sweeter, fruitier lines, kind of like Baby Saz.

On my first sip I couldn't help but notice how light in texture this rye is. It's soft, even a bit watery. Yet it still had plenty of flavor and a decently long finish. While it has the traditional vanilla flavor with the cinnamon spice finish that you usually get in a rye, it also had a nice orange peel tang to it.

It also had a light peppery and brown sugar finish that seemed to stick around for quite some time despite the watery texture. That orange peel, brown sugar and cinnamon spice really made me feel like I was drinking an Old Fashioned poured right out of a bottle. It was very enjoyable in that sense, as I'm a big fan of Old Fashioned's.

All that being said, the price on this bottle, bot retail and secondary, isn't really justified. There are better, more complex and more interesting ryes on the market for half the cost or less (see Baby Saz, Pikesville and Willett to name a few). While I can't be disappointed considering what I paid, if I'm reviewing this from the perspective of one who paid full price, this rye is a bit of a let down considering the price and the high demand for this product. The watery texture and lack of complexity left me feeling that while this was very good, it just wasn't . . . special.

Grade: B/B+

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Wild Turkey Master's Keep 17 Year Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $150
- 86.8 Proof
- 17 Years

Wild Turkey Master's Keep has been sitting on shelves around here (Chicago area) for quite some time. A lot of that certainly has to do with the cost. I'm sure some of it has to do with the low proof of this premium bourbon, clocking in at a mere 86.8 proof, despite being cask strength. I would also imagine that some of it is due to the lackluster reviews this bourbon has received. In any event, thanks to some Binny's gift cards, I decided to splurge and give this a try.

Quite frankly, bad reviews aside (though I did come across some very positive reviews as well), I was most intrigued by the fact that this bourbon was not cut down with water to arrive at this low proof. It had me hoping that it would be as full of flavor as other cask strength bottlings, but with minimal burn. This is one of the first projects of Eddie Russel, son of the great Jimmy Russel and relatively new master distiller at Wild Turkey. He attributes the low proof to the fact that this bourbon was aged in stone warehouses, so in a cooler and damper environment, resulting in a low-proof product coming out of the barrel. If nothing else, I figured it'd be unique.

The nose is very pungent and enjoyable. It's full of caramel and vanilla, with a little bit of cinnamon spice. With the age, I expected to get a lot of wood, but that simply wasn't there. Interestingly, over time the nose developed a rich, fruity quality, kind of an apricot flavor that reminded me of brandy.

On the palate the first thing I noticed was that there was absolutely no burn and nothing but flavor. I also immediately recognized that Wild Turkey profile that so many people either love it or don't. However, this has less spice than Wild Turkey 101 or Rare Breed. Despite it not being present in the nose, the wood comes forward, though in a softer, subtler manner. It is more of flavor only and doesn't make the bourbon seem dry. It's like it got the wood flavor but without the tannins.  

The finish is sweet and long, like a nice blend of amaretto and cloves. The cinnamon spice I expected on the palate finally comes through at the end as well, and it seems to contribute to that nice, warm Kentucky hug. I never found the fruity profile in the flavor that I was getting off the nose. Had it been there I may have enjoyed this much more, as I really enjoyed it on the nose.

This is a very easy bourbon to drink, and, as mentioned above, not nearly as dry as other 15+ year bourbons I've had. It's rich and full of flavor. However, there was something about this bottle that turned me off. I kept getting a weird, musty flavor, like that taste in your mouth when you walk into a damp basement. At first I thought I just got it stuck in my head after reading about the "damp environment" in which the barrels were aged, but I kept noticing it every time I went back to this bottle. It was kind of weird, and, quite frankly, for the price, weird is not the conclusion I was going for.

Grade: B-

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Maker's Mark Whisky Magazine & Binny's Private Select Kentucky Bourbon

VITALS:
- $70
- 110.2 Proof
- NAS

This is the second Maker's Mark Private Select that I've picked up. I loved the first bottle I tried, just as I have absolutely loved every other pour that I've had in bars. The Maker's Mark Private Selects are bottles that, when I see them on the shelves, I just grab them without question. Much like the Four Roses private selections, I feel like I'm guaranteed, at the least, a very good pour.

This particular bottling was no different. For those not in the know, the Private Select program allows a purchaser to create a custom recipe using a combination of ten different oak finishing staves of different types, and each stave adds different character and flavor. In the past the ones I've had were heavy on the Roasted French Mocha and the Toasted French Spice. This one is not so much:

On the nose I smelled a lot of wood and spice, like a peppery spice that tickled the nostrils. Though it lacked those traditional vanilla and caramel notes, as well as the chocolate notes that I've found in previous Private Selects, it did have an interesting buttery note to it as well. Not sure it played really well with the peppery spice, but it was certainly different and unique.

The palate very much matched the nose as well. Up front I was hit with the peppery wood notes. Though a bit dry in that sense, it was still complex and full of flavor, and it didn't strike me as an offensive dry-ness in any sense. Rather, it was a very full-bodied bourbon with an incredibly long, cinnamon finish that kept me salivating long after each swallow.

Towards the end of the bottle, it began to sweeten up a bit. Along with the pepper and long cinnamon finish, the traditional caramel flavor began to take center stage, and all the flavors were not complemented by an orange peel flavor that seemed to blend all the flavors together into one delicious flavor profile. While I enjoyed it from the start, by the end I found myself eager for the nex pour and couldn't get enough of it.

Though I didn't LOVE this one quite like I've loved other private selects, it was still a very good whiskey, and well-worth the price. It's still a complex, bold and spicy whiskey which, if I weren't comparing it to other Private Selects that I've had, would certainly be considered a top-tier pour. I did learn, however, that I'm apparently partial to the flavor profiles provided by the French Mocha and French Spice staves, and, if given options, I can look for that particular profile going forward (though I'll still probably just continue to grab them regardless of the recipe).

Grade: A-

Friday, May 12, 2017

1792 Full Proof Binny's Single Barrel Select

VITALS:
- $50
- 125 Proof
- NAS

Having had my eye out for the 1792 Full Proof as soon as I heard of its release, it was a no-brainer for me to grab this one off the shelf. At $50, just the fact that it's a barrel strength release from one of the big guys makes this a reasonable buy. I've come to love what 1792 has been producing, so I was very excited to try this one.

The nose is softer than expected and quite sweet. It certainly didn't hit me like a ton of bricks, either with alcohol burn or flavor. However, the sweet smell was reminiscent of cinnamon and raisin bread with brown sugar. An incredibly pleasant and enjoyable smell, so much so that I sat there sniffing my glass for a good few minutes before taking the first sip.

The first thing that I noticed about this high-proofer is the minimal amount of burn. The fact that the high alcohol content didn't seem to get in the way really allowed all the flavor to come through, and this whiskey is certainly full of flavor. It had a long spicy finish, kind of a blend of cinnamon and black pepper spice. That spiciness seemed to linger forever both in the mouth and at the back of the throat.

Up front was a delicious blend of plum and almond. It was sweet, but only subtly sweet, but was still very rich. Those flavors were rounded out by a light smokiness that was strong enough to be noticed and not strong enough to detract from the other flavors. It was really more savory than expected, as the nose had me thinking this was going to be a dessert (or possible a breakfast) whiskey.

As good as it was on that first pour, this bourbon only got better from pour to pour. Towards the end, the more traditional caramel and vanilla flavors came through, and they really complemented the plum and almond notes that I was noticing previously. The peppery spice seemed to dissipate and it eventually developed that sweet cinnamon note that I expected from the nose.

From beginning to end, despite the noticeable transformation, this bourbon was absolutely delicious. At this price, for what you're getting, it's absolutely worth it and I wouldn't hesitate to buy it again!

Grade: A

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Four Roses Binny's Private Selection Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - OESV

VITALS:
- $60
- 107.8 Proof
- 9 Years, 7 Months

This is recipe number seven of the ten different Four Roses recipes that I've had the chance to try (and I've got OESK sitting in reserve--just need to find an OESQ and an OBSO). Spoiler alert--as with every other Four Roses private selection I've tried, this one is also very, very good, even if not the best of the bunch.

The nose on this one is mild, certainly milder than past private single barrels I've had, which have always come across to me as being very bold and in your face both in smell and flavor. It is heavy on the caramel and vanilla, and it has a more pronounced woodiness to it than others. Interestingly, though, there as a noticeable wintergreen mint note to it, something I've only noticed before in certain ryes.

The palate is full-bodied and rich, heavy on the cinnamon and vanilla, kind of like a chai tea latte type of flavor. The cinnamon spice lingers at the back of the throat for a nice, long time. There are also distinct cinnamon notes, kind of a corn flake flavor that I usually don't get from Four Roses products. What wasn't there, at least on my first taste, was that wintergreen flavor that I got from the nose.

Despite its proof, this bourbon had no real burn. Rather, it was a complex and flavorful bourbon, thick and oily, yet very easy to drink. That oily texture really coated my mouth, allowing all the flavors to linger for a bit, and after a few sips, that's when I noticed that cool minty-nesss, not on my tongue or at the back of the throat, but rather on the roof of my mouth, seemingly just lingering there.

Towards the end of the bottle, the caramel flavor really took center stage, like I was drinking a Werther's Original. That cooling mint that I was looking for at first stuck around throughout, but was more of an afterthought. Rather, it was that rich, thick caramel coating that was prominent. The last few pours had sweetened significantly, making for a damn good drink.

If I were grading on the last couple pours only, this is an A+. Although I wish it had been that good throughout, though, it was nonetheless very enjoyable from beginning to end, even with the odd mint and corn flake notes thrown in there.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Minor Case Sherry Cask Finished Straight Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $50
- 90 Proof
- 2 Years

I think I heard about Minor Case prior to its release, though I can't be sure. It certainly did not have a bunch of hype surrounding it, but I recall being intrigued by a rye offering from the same people that make Yellowstone Bourbon. To be completely honest, the real reason I grabbed this, aside from the simple fact that I was looking for a new rye to try, was the incredibly handsome bottle they decided to put the whiskey in. Three different people commented on the bottle just on my way out of the store.

Great looking bottle aside, what matters is the juice contained within. To Limestone Branch's credit, they do provide an age statement on the back of the bottle, letting us know that the rye was aged for 24 months, though we don't know how long it spent finishing in the sherry casks. They are also up front that the rye was distilled and aged in Indiana (so it's MGP rye), and was bottled by Limestone Branch in Kentucky.

The nose, as expected with a sherry finish, was soft and fruity. It came across as a light, crisp raspberry scent. I hunted for some of the traditional rye spice on the nose, but just couldn't find it.

On first sip, it hit me as being simple, on the sweeter end, and it carried that fruit from the nose over to the palate. Again, as with the nose, raspberry notes seemed to stick out. Interestingly, despite this being a two year old rye, it had a relatively long finish, though it was that raspberry note that stuck around for so long.

It's probably because it's a young rye, but I really wanted some traditional spiciness, a little bit of cinnamon to push its way through the berry notes.  Although the spiciness wasn't there, what was left was a very, almost refreshing pour, something that would be very enjoyable over ice during the Summer. Though the flavors were good, it did come across as a bit watered down. It was, however, very easy to drink with almost no burn whatsoever.

About half way through the bottle, it seemed to sweeten up even more, coming across more like a dessert or after-dinner drink, with a certain creaminess added to the fruity notes. Enjoyable flavors of vanilla and nougat seemed to compliment those notes. Though it's not what I'd traditionally enjoy in a rye, and it ultimately did not satisfy my rye craving that led me to the store that day, I did find myself happily going back to the bottle for seconds. I didn't like it for what I hoped it would be, but I did enjoy it for what it was, even if only for the novelty of it.

In the end, I might buy a bottle again, but I think the mood would have to hit me just right. If it's a solid rye whiskey that I'm after, though, this isn't the bottle I'm reaching for.

Grade: B-

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Longrow Red Limited Edition Pinot Noir Cask Finished 12 Year Peated Campbeltown Single Malt Scotch

VITALS:
- $120
- 105.8 Proof
- 12 Years

My wife enjoys picking out bottles to surprise me with, usually for some sort of special occasion like a birthday or Father's Day. It's something I've really grown to love about her! When she does this, she tends to go with Scotch Whiskies, because there's less of a chance that I've had it before. So for my birthday she looked for something special, something limited, and she came home with this.

I have to admit, I was completely unfamiliar with this line. According to the label, Longrow is a peated single malt produced at Springbank Distillery in Campbeltown, and less than 100 casks of Longrow are filled each year. This particular bottling was matured for 11 years in bourbon casks and then one year in fresh New Zealand Pinot Noir casks, and on 9,000 bottles were produced. What was clear to me from the label was that there was a whole lot going on with this whisky, and I couldn't wait to dive in!

The nose is interesting. It had the traditional barley malt nose that I associate with Scotches, along with the expected peat smoke. However, those scents blended with what I'd describe as a sweet raspberry note, and in the end, it all culminated into a soft hickory smoke nose. It was like barbecue with a raspberry glaze that just made me salivate at the thought of tasting it.

On the palate, the peat is prominent but not overpowering. Rather, the myriad other flavors are allowed to come through, as though they poke their heads out through the peat smoke to hit the tongue, only to retreat back to their smokey home, kind of like a whisky whack-a-mole!

I enjoyed some delicious dark fruits hidden within, like plum and blackberry. These flavors were overlaid on a nice platform of vanilla and cereal notes, kind of like rice crispy treats. On another sip I noticed brown sugar, which balanced very well with the peat smoke and the slight heat (though I wouldn't describe it as "burn"). As with the nose, the palate was also very reminiscent of sweet barbecue ribs.

The fact that this was aged in bourbon barrels for 11 years seems to certainly have had its influence. I believe that the aging in the bourbon barrels gives this whisky its robust character and the vanilla and brown sugar flavors up front. The Pinot Noir barrel finish added further complexity, and softened the whisky with delicious fruit notes that complemented the other flavors rather than contrast with them. This whisky has a lot going on, and it's that kind of robust character that's needed for all these different flavors to come through.

This is easily one of the most interesting whiskies I've ever tried. As I said, there is a LOT going on, from the peat smoke, to the bourbon barrel aging, to the Pinot Noir barrel finish. A lot of factors influenced the flavor of this whisky. However, in the end, it was in incredibly fun pour and, more importantly, an incredibly delicious one. I certainly will be keeping my eye out for future releases!

Grade: A

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $130
- 91 Proof
- 13 Years

Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary was released to commemorate Jimmy Russel's 60th year working at the Wild Turkey Distillery. Obviously he wasn't in the role the entire time, but the master distiller at Wild Turkey is one of the top celebrities currently in the bourbon world, and his career is certainly worth celebrating. I couldn't imagine doing anything for 60 years, and this milestone is nothing short of incredible.

These bottles, however, are what have been described as "shelf turds." I'm guessing this is due in large part to the fact that it's a $130 (or even up to $150) bottle, and it's only bottled at 91 proof. This doesn't exactly scream to bourbon enthusiasts, "Hurry up and buy me!" Reviews have been somewhat mixed on this release as well, further adding to the general lack of interest. Nonetheless, I decided to give it a try for myself.

The nose is very pungent, the kind of whiskey you can smell from across the room. It is almost entirely vanilla, with a very light cinnamon spice to it as well as a nutty note. The burn is not noticeable at all, but I guess that's expected given the proof.

The flavor, however, is not as sweet as the nose. It's got that traditional Wild Turkey flavor, something that I've come to associate with higher rye whiskeys in general. It has a very distinct wood character to it, a strong oak influence. It also is heavy on the vanilla, though not a sweet vanilla as the nose would make you think, but more of an unsweetened vanilla, like tasting vanilla extract.

It's got that long, drawn out spice at the end that is common to Wild Turkey products. It's got a full body, which makes sure the bourbon really coats the mouth and helps that spice linger for quite some time.

After a few pours I started to notice a sweeter, pecan flavored note alongside some herbal notes that I couldn't quite place. It was somewhere between dill and oregano. It wasn't strong, but was certainly noticeable if for no other reason than it seemed very out of place. It didn't matter much, though, as those flavors seemed to be quickly consumed by the dominant wood flavor that persisted from beginning to end.

For such a special release (not to mention the hefty price tag) I really expected a more special bourbon. In that sense, while this was a good bourbon, it was a bit of a let down.

Grade: B-

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Old Bardstown Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $21
- 90 Proof
- NAS

On a recent family mini-vacation to St. Louis, I sniffed out a liquor store with a good whiskey selection (luckily for me it Randall's Wines & Spirits was just down the road from my hotel). Though I always love perusing the selections and prices at any liquor store, I was primarily looking for a relatively cheap bottle of something that just doesn't make it to the shelves in Illinois. When I looked up and saw a Willett bourbon for $21.00, and a label that I don't believe I've ever seen in my life, I knew I found my bottle.

The bottle does not have any frills. Nothing about it screams "buy me!" In fact, the label is incredibly plain, a two-toned label of brown on cream. Even the bottle shape is that of other bottom-shelf offerings. But I do have a love for Willett, and back to the hotel I went with it to give it a go.

The nose is heavy on the caramel, with a hint of cocoa to it. It was actually quite enjoyable, and I took it as a sign of good things to tome.

On the first sip the first thing I noticed was the texture. I fully expected a thin, watery bourbon much like most of the other stuff you can find in this price range. What I found, however, was a nice, velvety smooth bourbon that was more oily in texture. It really coated the mouth, which caused the flavors to linger around for a decent amount of time.

As to those flavors, up front it is distinctly brown sugar overlaying a strong cherry note. I find such a note offensive in some bourbons, as frequently it reminds me of cough syrup. That wasn't the case here, though, as instead the cherry with the brown sugar created a nice combination that resulted in a sweet and long finish.

I looked for the cocoa from the nose, but it just didn't seem to be there. Nonetheless, other flavors found there way in as well. The traditional vanilla and caramel were there, though subtle. There was almost no spice and no burn. However, there was a slight anise note that seemed to be noticeable only on the finish. This was really the only negative mark that I would give it, as that note seemed to come out of nowhere and did not really mesh with everything else going on in this bourbon.

That being said, that one down mark is not enough for me to not recommend this to others. At the price of only $21, were this available by me, this is a bourbon that I could certainly make a regular drinker. Although it's not a bourbon you'd write home to mom about, it nonetheless drinks like a much more expensive bourbon, and for that it gets higher marks!

Grade: B

Monday, April 3, 2017

Smooth Ambler Old Scout American Whiskey

VITALS:
- $35
- 99 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 6

Smooth Ambler out of West Virginia has been producing some quality rye and bourbon for quite some time now. Their rye, store picks and single barrel bourbons are pretty well sought after, because, quite frankly, they're good whiskeys! Whenever Smooth Ambler announces a new product, I am therefore intrigued, and their release of an American Whiskey was no different.

The nose is predominantly cereal notes, with hints of vanilla and the soft scents of sweet tobacco leaf. It reminded me of a more grain-forward Irish whiskey in this sense, like Green Spot only with corn flakes added in.

On the palate, the whiskey immediately strikes me as being sweet. This was a bit unexpected. I was immediately hit with brown sugar and orange peel to give it just a bit of bitterness to counterbalance the sweet brown sugar. The cereal notes from the nose are there as well, though more subtle than what I expected. My initial impressions from my first pour were that it's an okay whiskey, but that it feels like after time it could really open up and that the cereal and vanilla notes might eventually take over.

As I made my way through this bottle, other notes came to the front that I hadn't noticed at first. A certain cocoa flavor made its way in, and, mixed with the cereal and brown sugar flavors, reminded me of chocolate covered graham crackers (a seriously underrated dessert/cookie in my book). It also seemed to take on a creamy nougat flavor, making this more like a dessert whiskey. While it didn't have that over-sweet, sugariness that some whiskeys have, it was nonetheless more sweet than I'd prefer, and it seemed to get more sugary as time went on.

Overall, I like that Smooth Ambler is releasing new products such as this as well as their wheat whiskey. They continue to make quality products, and this is no exception. Although I didn't find this whiskey to be great, it is nonetheless very good, and I'd recommend to anyone that they give it a try. At the very least, it seems to be well-priced and you won't be stuck with the buyer's remorse of overpaying for a bottle you don't really enjoy.

Grade: B-

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Barton 1792 Small Batch Liquor 'n' Wine Single Barrel Select Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $28
- 93.7 Proof
- NAS

Store picks always grab my attention. More and more they are becoming the target of bourbon hunters, representing more attainable trophies than the Pappy's and the BTACs that everyone else is looking for. They're unique to that establishment, creating rarity based on geographic limitations alone, and frequently they are fantastic pours, better than the standard offering.

So, when I was in one of my local shops, Liquor 'n' Wine, perusing what was new that they got in, trying to decide whether I really wanted to overpay for another bottle of Rock Hill Farms, the little gold sticker on the side of a bottle of otherwise normal-looking Barton 1792 Small Batch caught my attention. On closer inspection, I realized it was indeed a store pick single barrel select. And even better was the price - $28.00!!! Buying this bottle at that price was a no-brainer. I like the regular offering, and for this price, I couldn't turn down the possibility of lucking into something unique and delicious.

The nose was soft, smelling of sweet vanilla and caramel. Though not pungent, it vividly reminded me of Cow Tales, those soft, caramel ropes wrapped around a vanilla, nougat center. Needless to say, it was a very pleasant nose.

The flavor was vanilla with a light cinnamon spice on the back end. It was a full-bodied bourbon, really coating the mouth and the flavors coming in strong. This was in sharp contrast to the standard 1792 Small Batch.

It also had an almond nuttiness, with a slight nutmeg/woodiness to it. This combination gave it an odd sort of tang to it. I wasn't overly fond of this "tang," though I could see how some people would enjoy it. To me it just interfered with the flavors that I really wanted to enjoy.

Throughout the bottle the primary characteristic that stayed true was the cinnamon spice. The bourbon carried a decently long, mild spice. This spice was accentuated as the almond flavor seemed to have morphed into a more black cherry note about half-way through the bottle. This is when I really started enjoying it.

Although it wasn't a knock-your-socks off store pick, no diamond in the rough, it was still a very good bourbon. If this were available regularly at this price, it'd be a no-brainer as far as picking a regular sipper. Though there are certainly better bourbons to be had out there, it'll be difficult to find many for this price.

Grade: B

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Town Branch Rye Whiskey

VITALS:
- $50
- 100 Proof
- NAS

I had heard that Alltech, under it's Lexington Distilling Co. name, was going to release a rye whiskey. While I liked their bourbon, it didn't exactly knock my socks off. Accordingly, I wasn't going out of my way to grab a bottle of this. Additionally, I had read a few initial reviews of this whiskey that, while they weren't bad, weren't really good either.  However, more or less on a whim (and the fact that the store I was in had a limited selection), I picked up a bottle to give it a try.

Normally I don't put much stock in reviews (as I sit here writing my own review, the irony is not lost on me), and this whiskey is a good example of why. While craft and smaller distilleries have a hard time competing with the big boys when it comes to making bourbon, I've found more than a few distilleries that have made some delicious ryes (Mississippi River Distilling and FEW Spirits come to mind). I'd put Alltech in that same category.

It's got a traditional rye nose, though it was oddly faint. The cinnamon and vanilla notes are there, but I really had to work to notice anything. It was one of faintest smelling whiskeys I've ever had.

Luckily, though, the amount of flavor made up for it. The initial sip was all sweet cinnamon. Remember those fireball jawbreakers from when you were a kid? They'd be really hot until you finally dissolved the spicy outer coating, and then it was this sweet cinnamon flavor in the middle? That's what this reminded me of, and it was really good and what I look for in a rye.

Given the reviews I had seen prior to trying this, I was surprised that I liked this as much as I did. In addition to that sweet cinnamon note that I loved, there were undercurrents of pine and sweet cereal notes that reminded me of Life cereal.  It was just the right amount to offset the sweetness of the rye.

On the finish, in addition to the cinnamon heat, there was a crisp light fruit note that lingered as well, like sweet pear. All in all, this rye was very complex and had a lot to offer as far as character and variety of flavors go. Alltech is on to something good here!

Grade: B+

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Woodford Reserve Master's Collection Brandy Cask Finish Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $100
- 90.4 Proof
- NAS

The 2016 Woodford Reserve Master's Collection release was a brandy cask finished bourbon. Though intriguing as it sounds, and perhaps indicative of the kind of reception this series has received the past few years, these are still sitting around on shelves in some places collecting dust. I, for one, was excited to give this a try. I love finished bourbons, and I can enjoy the occasional brandy, so this seemed like a tasty proposition.

The nose gives away the fruity characters from the brandy. It's sweet on the nose, with distinct notes of raisin and brown sugar, complemented by some crisper, softer fruits including lighter notes of pear as well as heavier notes of plum.

As expected, this bourbon is very fruit forward on the palate. What I didn't expect, however, is how vanilla forward it is. I didn't really get any vanilla on the nose, but it underscored every sip.

It also wasn't as sweet as I expected based on the nose. It carried the fruity notes that I expected, including plum and pear. The sweetness was there, but it was more of a wine sweetness, a sweetness that occurs naturally from the fruit.

This bourbon seemed to change significantly as I made my way through the bottle. The fruit-flavor profile seemed to change, and later pours were dominated by the sweet flavor of dried apricots mixed with brown sugar. It was very jelly-like in flavor and had me smacking my lips after each sip. Though it wasn't what I'd look for in an every day drinker, I really enjoyed it for what it is. It's kind of like peach cobbler to me in that sense. Something that I really enjoy on occasion, but nothing I'd want to have with any regularity.

The bourbon is somewhat watery in texture, and overall soft on the palate. By that I mean that you aren't smacked with intense flavors, bold spice or high heat. It's an easy drinker that is sweet up front and has an inoffensive finish of lingering fruit and light baking spice that lasted, though not as long as I'd prefer, more than a few seconds anyway.

This bourbon is incredibly unique in taste, and overall, the brandy finish is a success. When the mood struck me, this was exactly what I needed. It's kind of like how most of the time when I eat candy I eat chocolate, a Snickers or something. But, sometimes, I want that fruity, chewy Starburst, and when I have it, it satisfies that craving, and I'm back to my Snickers and Milky Ways. This is a niche bourbon, but it fills that niche very well.

Grade: B+

Friday, March 17, 2017

Old Ripy The Whiskey Barons Collection Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50
- 104 Proof
- NAS
- Batch No. 1

Old Ripy is the other initial release in The Whiskey Barons Collection from Campari America. As with Bond & Lillard, Old Ripy was also distilled at Wild Turkey, though without an involvement of the Russells. This bourbon honors the Old Ripy brand, which was created by James Ripy in 1868 and was produced through 1950.

As with Bond & Lillard, this bourbon comes in a .375 ml bottle. Though I'd like to see it come in a full-sized bottle, there is something I enjoy about holding this bottle in my hand, where it fits perfectly like a grenade or, as I alluded to previously, a bottle of Red Stripe. It just feels right. The label is incredibly eye appealing as well, and I think that will go a long way towards moving this product off the shelf.

But, what matters most is what's inside, and, quite frankly, what's inside of this bottle is very good bourbon! Its nose is full vanilla with a light sweetness and is very aromatic. You also notice the corn grain as well, like sweet corn flakes.

Upon the first taste this bourbon was delicious! It's definitely on the sweet end of the sweetness spectrum, but it's not sugary or offensively sweet. I actually enjoyed it, much like a dessert bourbon! It was predominantly brown sugar and vanilla, but it had a candy-bar character to it, as if it had hints of Butterfinger as well.

Again, describing it as a candy bar character makes it seem overly sweet, but that's not the case here. It's more like a donut or coffee cake type sweetness, the kind you can enjoy for breakfast (not that I enjoyed Old Ripy for breakfast at any point). There was also a crisp apple note that seemed to subtly underscore all the other flavors, contributing to an overall delicious profile.

The finish was the only thing that disappointed. It was short and somewhat unremarkable. There were some enjoyable spiced hot cider notes that lingered, but only for a second before they dissipated. I really wish they would have stuck around, coating the back of the throat a bit more.

As with Bond & Lillard, the price tag of $50 for a .375 ml bottle is prohibitive. However, I found this bourbon to be superior to the Bond & Lillard (which I really enjoyed). I worked my way through this small bottle very quickly, and, if it were packaged as a normal 750 ml bottle, I'd be all over it. All in all, after trying the first two, I'm looking forward to more releases in this line.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Four Roses Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon OESF - Binny's Private Selection

VITALS:
- $60
- 119.8 Proof
- 9 Years, 10 Months

I'm inching ever so close to trying each of the ten Four Roses recipes. When I picked this one up, that put me up to 8 that I've found, two of which are still sitting in reserve waiting to be opened. I'm still looking for the OBSO and OESQ recipes.

For those of you who may not know what I'm talking about with respect to the different Four Roses recipes and these odd character combinations, rather than go into it here, I'll direct you to Four Roses' website, where they have a nice infographic explaining everything - http://fourrosesbourbon.com/four-roses-bourbon-infographic/

What's interesting is when I read the different flavor profiles of the five different yeast strains, I feel like the V, K and O strains would be right up my alley. Their descriptions seem to be along the more traditional path as far as the flavors go, with K being pretty much what I look for in a bourbon - "Light spiciness, light caramel and full-bodied."

And yet (albeit with four recipes left to try), I've found myself enjoying this OESF the most! Who knew that I'd be most taken by the yeast strain described as "Essences of herbal aromas." Honestly, this is the one that, before trying any of them, I would pick as likely to be my least favorite.

I also tend to favor higher-rye mashbills. And yet, this is the E mashbill, with only 20% rye (as opposed to the B mashbill at 35% rye). So out of the ten recipes, if I went on descriptors alone, this would be the recipe I'd be the least excited to try.

But I've already spoiled it, and, as I said above, so far it's my favorite! Despite the lower rye mashbill, I still notice the rye/cinnamon spice on the nose. This nose was very complex and rich, however, and I also picked up notes of cherry, coffee and brown sugar. It was so good I just wanted to snort it right up!

But I thought better of it, and enjoyed the bourbon in the traditional manner, and man am I glad I did! It was sweeter up front than I had expected. I got a lot of toffee, balanced by that coffee flavor that I got on the nose, which likely helped keep it from being overly sweet. Some subtle wine notes crept through as well, rich and soft fruit flavors like a velvety pinot noir.

It also had a decent burn, up front. However, that gave way pretty quickly to a syrupy, lip-smacking, sweet finish that was paralleled by a cinnamon spice finish.

The end result was I found myself licking my lips after each drink and fiending for the next hit! After each swallow the back of my throat was coated in a sweet butterscotch flavor while the cinnamon spice still lingered on the tip of my tongue.

I have to admit, I did not notice the "Essences of herbal aromas," and luckily I didn't read that until after I finished the bottle and went to write this post. Not knowing that, I wasn't actively looking for it or otherwise tainted by that description. What I did notice was that this bourbon was rich, complex, sweet and spicy and absolutely one of my favorite bourbons I've ever had!

Grade: A+

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Bond & Lillard The Whiskey Barons Collection Limited Edition Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $50 (.375 ml)
- 100 Proof
- NAS (Minimum of 7 years)
- Batch No. 1

This bourbon and Old Ripy, which I will be reviewing in the near future, are a couple new offerings from the Whisky Barons Collection, a series of bourbons released by Campari America and distilled at Wild Turkey (though without involvement of either of the Russells) to honor the pioneers of the bourbon industry and brands that did not survive prohibition.

The bottle itself is very attractive and cool-looking, and rather than put a lengthy story on the bottle, it simply identifies the two individuals being commemorated (W.F. Bond and C.C. Lillard), and provides a quick-hit nugget that "Before Prohibition, Bond & Lillard was highly referred and awarded the grand prize at the 1904 S. Louis World's Fair." Initially I was put off by everything as being too gimmicky, along the lines of Orphan Barrel. And though this is a bit gimmicky and probably a money grab while the bourbon trend is hot, Campari does not make up a story about some lost barrels that were miraculously found, but rather that they are producing a bourbon as a nod to some historical bourbon families, distilleries and recipes. In the end, I'm alright with that.

As to the bottle itself, $50 is a lot to ask for a .375 ml, and that's a factor that needs to be considered in any review. Nonetheless, I was clearly willing to try out a new product sourced from Wild Turkey, even if it meant likely overpaying a bit. I will say, though, that I really like the shape of this bottle. It fits in the hand much like a Red Stripe, causing me to reminisce about eating jerk chicken on the beach and listening to Jimmy Cliff. I never did end up drinking straight from the bottle, but in the hand, it almost feels like it's meant to be enjoyed that way.

The nose on this bourbon is soft, giving off notes of light fruit, and when I say light fruit, I mean that they don't overwhelm the senses, like pears and apples. I also pick up more traditional notes of caramel and sweet, vanilla pipe tobacco.

The flavor is a nice mix of sweet and spicy. The sweetness tends to be a fruity type of sweetness, though not the "light fruit" that I noticed on the nose. Rather, it's a kind of cherry flavor, balanced by a light chocolate note hanging out in the background. The spice is very much a clove spice, which I've always felt was kind of a weird cherry-cinnamon type spice to begin with, so I guess that makes sense. The texture is soft, with really no rough edges and a nice viscous texture, buttery even, that really coats the mouth.

As I made my way (albeit very quickly) to the bottom of the bottle, the sweetness really stood out, as it was kind of a unique sweetness that I can't recall noticing in a bourbon before. In fact, it took me a bit to place it, but once I did it was almost all that I noticed - sweet tea. I noticed a distinct southern-style sweet tea flavor to it. Though different, I really enjoyed it. It probably helps that I love sweet tea.

This was a fun bourbon to try out, from the label to the bottle to the interesting flavor. Everything about it was fun and enjoyable. It wasn't "great" bourbon, but it was really good and a fun pour in nearly every respect.

Grade: B+

Saturday, March 4, 2017

1792 High Rye Kentucky Straight Bourbon

VITALS:
- $45
- 94.3 Proof
- NAS

I really enjoy the Barton 1792 Small Batch, and I can say that I have LOVED all of Barton's special releases, from the Sweet Wheat to the Single Barrel to the Port Finished, which is still one of my all time favorites. So, picking up a bottle of the High Rye when met with such an opportunity was a no-brainer. I tend to favor higher-rye bourbons, so I was really looking forward to this one.

The nose is delicious. It's almost entirely caramel, with vanilla and pipe tobacco seeming to linger in the background. It smells like a sweeter bourbon, which is interesting considering I was expecting it to be spicier given the high rye content. That sweet tobacco and caramel combination was a bit different than most bourbons, but in a good way.

The flavor is soft and mildly sweet. On the first pour I didn't really notice the rye spice. Rather, traditional notes of caramel and vanilla were prominent. It came across as a smooth, easy drinking bourbon with a classic profile, the kind I would look for if I were to give a novice an example of what a traditional bourbon should taste like. It also had a nice middle-of-the-road texture to it, not watery but not really oily. Just kind of somewhere in between.

While it is a delicious bourbon, I was looking forward to a more spice-forward profile, and it just didn't deliver in that respect. Additionally, in the first two pours there was a bit of a funky flavor that seemed to come through on the back end, almost a rotted apple type flavor--fruity yet . . . musty? It was an odd flavor, something that I've only recalled noticing in young bourbons from craft distilleries, and certainly something I didn't expect from this bottle. It wasn't a strong flavor, but just a subtle, slight oddity on the back end.

As the bottle opened up, however, I no longer noticed that funky flavor, and, in fact, the spice tended to come through more, particularly on the finish. However, it wasn't the usual cinnamon spice that you get from ryes, but rather a peppery spice with more bite than flavor.

As much as I wanted to love this, I found myself disappointed. This was my least favorite of their releases, including their standard small batch. That initial funky apple flavor really turned me off, and while those notes disappeared after those first two pours, it still did not live up to expectations. It was a good bourbon, but there was nothing about it that really stood out to me.

Grade: B

Friday, March 3, 2017

High West 14-Year Light Whiskey

VITALS:
- $100
- 92 Proof
- 14 Years
- Batch No. 1

I had heard well in advance of the release that High West was going to be releasing a "light whiskey." I had never heard of the term "light whiskey" before, and it certainly piqued my curiosity. I did some very high level research on the subject (in other words, I Googled it once), and I learned that light whiskey has been around for years. While it is not a diet whiskey, as its name might suggest, it is distilled at a higher proof and, unlike bourbon, is aged in used rather than new barrels. This gives it a lighter color. I also learned that it is commonly used as a blending agent, and not typically bottled on its own. Honestly, nothing about what I learned of it made me really interested in searching out a bottle.

However, on my recent trip to Utah I visited the High West Distillery, and, after our tour, I tasted what they called their "Reserve" flight. The second whiskey in this flight was the Light Whiskey. Now that a small pour was sitting right in front of me at the bar, my curiosity was once again piqued, and I was excited to give it a try.

The nose was absolutely amazing! It was butter and marshmallow, layered over vanilla, with hints of the sweet corn grain. It was like a rice crispy treat that got blended into a vanilla milk shake. I couldn't stop sticking the glass under my nose.

So, imagine my disappointment when I put that sample to my lips and, quite honestly, wasn't a huge fan of what I tasted. It was good, but it was sweet and simple. I was looking forward to something special and, while it was tasty, it just wasn't anything to write home to mom about.

Nonetheless, wanting to have something to bring home with me that I can't get back home (and luckily having received a $100 gift card as a present), I splurged and purchased what I knew was an overpriced bottle of merely decent whiskey. If figured, however, that (1) it's something I can't get anywhere else; and (2) it's unique and makes for a nice story.

So I got my bottle home and didn't do much with it for a while, until my neighbor came over and I wanted to give him a taste. We each poured a glass and I couldn't have been more shocked at what I tasted. The nose was still wonderful as ever, but the taste was significantly better than what I remembered at the distillery. My buyer's remorse (as rationalized as the purchase was), slowly began to fade.

With each subsequent pour I found myself enjoying this whiskey more and more. Don't get me wrong, it's nothing like a bourbon. In fact, it's my understanding that this is mostly a corn whiskey. But, it doesn't have the sharp edges and heat that any other corn whiskey I've tried has. Rather, this is soft and smooth, and most of all, buttery! It seemed to coat the mouth with that rice crispy treat flavor that was so prevalent on the nose. Where was this the first time I tasted this stuff?!?!

The flavor profile was more complex than that, however, as a sweet vanilla bean flavor seemed to underscore the other flavors, as did a subtle cornbread flavor. The sweetness seemed less artificial as well, coming across as more of a honey sweetness. It was almost a blend of rice crispy treats, vanilla bean ice cream and cornbread with honey. Put that in a blender and drink it!

Even now that this bottle is long empty, I am perplexed by it. I wasn't much of a fan, bought it anyway, and found myself really liking it! Though the price is prohibitive, its scarcity and uniqueness justify that a bit, and the flavor made it a pretty easy pill to swallow after all.

Grade: B+/A-

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Elijah Craig 18-Year Single Barrel Kentucky Straight Bourbon - 2016

VITALS:
- $140
- 90 Proof
- 18 Years
- Barrel No. 4271

First of all, I must give some big props to my local guy. On a random wine run to my corner shop for my wife, he let me know as I was checking out that they got in a bottle of Elijah Craig 18. "You want it?" he asked? I was so excited I had to refrain from doing the Night at the Roxbury bit ("No . . . . . YESSSSSS!!!!).

I loved last year's release of the 18-year, and I couldn't wait to try this year's. I actually cracked it open as my New Year's Eve pour. Due to extenuating circumstances that night (there may or may not have been some drinking involved), I didn't end up taking any notes of those first few pours. And I didn't get back to this bottle until weeks later, so my first real impressions were after this bottle had been open and given a chance to sit for a bit.

What I loved about last year's release was that it had a very nice blend of that dry, woodiness from the extra aging, but it was balanced well by its sweetness. My first impression of this release was that it lacked the sweetness of last year's release. The nose on this one is beautiful, heavy on the caramel, but also giving off the expected wood notes as well as a nice walnut note. It actually smelled sweet, like a walnut pie, or at least how I imagine a walnut pie would taste.

The taste is mostly just an oak bomb. The dry wood notes overwhelm. Buried underneath all the oak other flavors are hidden, however. There's a distinct nutmeg flavor, as well as a hidden vanilla flavor, though certainly not a sweet vanilla.

Interestingly, as I made my way through the bottle, the oak notes seemed to take a step back. I don't know if that's a result of the bourbon having had more time to breathe, or if it was just me getting accustomed to the flavor, but I began noticing other flavors as well. It had a slight cocoa flavor to it, and at times seemed to take on some red wine notes, kind of like a spicy, woody shiraz. Those wine notes seemed to go perfectly with the velvety texture of the bourbon, and I really began enjoying each pour.

Additionally, it did seem to sweeten up each time I went back to the bottle, such that by the last glass I found myself really enjoying it and wishing there were more to pour. By the end, it was an incredibly sweet, complex bourbon, having the heavy oak, but well-complemented by the underlying vanilla and dark fruit notes.

All in all, this bottle comes with a hefty price tag and a lot of time in the barrel. While the nose was amazing throughout, I didn't find myself REALLY enjoying this bottle (at least not $130-worth of enjoyment) until the very end. Perhaps it would serve well to be decanted, but I was a little disappointed with this year's release. While still very good, I expected much more after last year.

Grade: B+